Dec 27, 2012

All I Want For Christmas

Did you get what you wanted for Christmas? Was this the year you finally got a Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time? Or were you looking for something else?

As this year draws to a close, and a new year begins, oftentimes we look to the last two weeks of the year to finally get what we want. We seek for gifts at Christmas that will bring happiness; or at least temporary happiness. 

We go through this season not really looking for gifts like toys and hats and clothing and fruitcake. Really what we are  longing for is to hear parents and children FINALLY tell us we matter “This is the year…” we exclaim; “when I will finally hear someone express true love to me by tell me that they are proud of me!”  

Or we put all of our hope into a new year fighting any cynicism that is boiling up inside of us. And it may not happen.

You see, we can get everything we want externally and still be missing something on the inside. That is where we really need something to change.

The true reason for celebrating Christmas is that God chose to become flesh and walk among us. He came to lay down His life and be resurrected and to once and for all settle the debt that was ours to pay and to give us what we really need.

He came that we might have life abundant! (See John 10:10)

He came because

“…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

He came to give us new hearts:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) 

“.. . I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33b-34)

As this year draws to a close, and a new year begins, stop what you are doing and where you are going. Has the road you’ve chosen to travel this past year gotten you where you really want to be? 

And ask God to reveal Himself to you and tell you that you matter and how much He really loves you.

You too can finally get what you really want for Christmas.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."



Dec 20, 2012

The Warmth of a Small Child’s Embrace

Last Friday, I was at home getting my things together for my evening’s activities. A local ice rink hired me to be Santa at a “Skate with Santa” event and this would not only provide some cash, but also give me a chance to be a big kid again.

I was somewhat amused by the idea of playing Santa, because when we raised our children, Santa wasn’t part of the Christmas story that we told. No, I wasn’t a bad dad, I simply wanted my children to know that Christmas was a celebration of God’s love when He sent His only begotten Son to become “one of us”; Immanuel; who would die on a cross and then resurrected so that "whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)

Everything I needed for the event was packed into a duffle bag along with my sharpened skates and the Santa suit the organization gave to me to wear for the event.  I had some time before I had to leave my house so I decided to turn on the television to see what was on.

My attention was quickly captivated by the news that had interrupted most of the major networks. The stations were reporting the tragic news that a lone gunman had gone into a school in Newtown, Connecticut and shot to death several adults and children.

During the next few minutes, my attention was absorbed by the television reporters as they attempted to provide specific details about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and its aftermath. They broadcasted that twenty-six people were killed; reporting that twenty of them children around six and seven years old. The gunman then shot and killed himself.

I, like so many of us on that day, began to pray and cry out on behalf of the families and administrators and rescue people who had to sort through this tragedy. My mind tried to make sense of it all as my emotions as a father and grandfather began to overwhelm me. My heart began to ache as I tried to imagine what those parents in Connecticut must be going through.

I called my wife Cathy at the school where she works; simply because I wanted to connect with another person before I headed out to be with the children and their families at the ice rink. I also wondered about how many of the children I would soon be with knew about the tragedy that had taken place twelve hundred miles away.

I loaded my gear into my truck and drove to the ice rink as I tried to focus on loving those whom I was hired to play Santa for. I arrived ten minutes later and went into one of the locker rooms to begin my transformation. I laced my skates, put on the Santa suit, and secured the beard with adhesive so that it couldn’t be pulled off.

I stepped on the ice and was greeted by jubilant shouts of joy as the awaiting children saw Santa arrive. My heart quickly was totally aligned with my assignment for the evening; be the best Santa I knew how and love on these children and their families as a form of distraction from the realities of our broken world.

I spent the next hour and a half playing tag, posing for pictures, and skating around bringing joy to the one hundred and fifty or so people who had come down for the event.

One of the absolute joys was being able to use my grandpa superpowers and stop several crying children by picking them up in my arms and giving them a ride around the rink, much to the delight of their parents.

My heart was filled up as grateful parents and children thanked me as they left the ice for spending time with them by posing for pictures and skating with them.

I stepped off the ice and made my way back into the locker rooms to begin my transformation from Santa back to Tommy O. I wiped off my skates, packed up my equipment, loaded my gear into my truck, and drove home.

As I drove home, praise rose from my heart; I was so very grateful to God for the gift of the evening! I was so very grateful at this precious gift of being able to have spent the time bringing joy and laughter to so many.

I was especially grateful for all of the hugs that I received from the children that helped to fill my heart that had been broken from the tragedy that had taken place earlier in the day.

I was so very grateful to my Heavenly Father for the warmth of a small child’s embrace.

“Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:14-17 NKJV)

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Dec 13, 2012

Learning From Joe and Mary

One of the subplots behind the story of the first Christmas is how God was faithful to Joseph and Mary. Have you ever thought about that?

Here was this young couple who was chosen by God to become the vessel through which He would take “the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8)

As exciting as it may sound to be chosen by God for this task, the truth is that it was very hard; it had to be!

Mary was told by an angel who appeared to her in her house (yeah like that happened every day!) and told her; “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

We gloss over this situation and romanticize it as we place the two figures into the manger scene at Christmastime. But oh the scandal! Oh the ridicule! Oh the shame!

Mary had to go through the next nine months or so telling people that although she was a virgin, she was pregnant. Her explanation was that an angel told her  that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

Joseph, her fiancĂ©, had to walk this through as well. He had to tell people that “yes” Mary really was still a virgin and that the child wasn’t his. His explanation was that “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Constantly explaining on the outside that it was God’s will while perhaps on the inside wondering if they had made it all up. Joseph wasn’t there when Mary had her encounter with the angel; nor was Mary there when Joseph had his. They were each alone and they had to totally trust that God would prove Himself.

They were misunderstood and shunned by a town would not put up with this immorality and the subsequent lying that followed this tall tale. They were alone as they had only one place to look, and that was for each, individually, to look to God to prove Himself in this wild story.

And God did with such grandeur that each year all around the world we stop and set aside time to celebrate that He was faithful to prove that what He said was true!

My friend; walking in faith and following what God tells us to do is hard and it takes a grace beyond what we can muster in our own strength. We can’t do it on our own; we need God to walk us through. We have to each, individually, look to God to prove Himself to be true.

And if it was He who told us to do something, He will back it up, and He will be faithful with such grandeur that all of eternity will set aside time to celebrate that He was faithful to prove that what He said was true!

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."



Dec 6, 2012

Driving In The Fog

My wife Cathy and I were driving home late one night after spending a few days on the road doing ministry. The freeway that we were driving on was covered in an ocean of fog and it was very hard to see where we were going.

About thirty minutes into the trip, we realized that we probably should have stayed over where we were one more night rather than drive home so late. The couple that had hosted us had invited us to stay one more night, but we declined. I had to get back home because I had an early morning appointment with another pastor who was coming over to my office and I didn’t have his number to call and cancel.

We continued to drive on as the fog grew thicker by the mile. The sky above us was bright with stars and a full moon; which helped a little because this area of Minnesota that had no lights along the freeway.  However, they also illuminated the tips of ears on herds of deer that were lined up grazing in the ditches for miles on either side of the highway, which meant that we had to be very attentive. 

We could only use our high beams for short times as we quickly had to switch back to low beams when we came upon another weary traveler on the road.

Driving under these conditions led to fatigue very quickly as every muscle in our eyes strained to make out the road ahead as we also kept our ears attentive to deer potentially crossing the road. Hands grew tense as they gripped the steering wheel keeping the car headed in the right direction.  

We were very tired and it was way too late to be driving and yet, we pressed on hoping to finally be past the fog that was surrounding our very lives.

The fog reminded me of the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The author Philip Yancey affectionately refers to it as; “Survivors of the fog”. In this chapter, we read about ordinary people who looked to God as they by faith “drove through the fog” in some area of their lives.

 “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

 My friend, I’m not sure what you are going through today. You may be in a place where you feel as though you, too, are “driving in the fog” and it is very hard to see what is coming up ahead. You, too, may be fatigued as you strain to make out the road ahead; not quite sure of what you are doing or where you are really going. You, too, may be aware of so many potential obstacles lying in the “ditches” along your journey.

My advice for you is to press on; in faith. No, not your own, but in Him; in God, the only One you should look to. That is how those mentioned and referred to in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews made it through. He wants to be the One who will “drive” you through this situation.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Don’t try to do it all alone. I am so glad that Cathy was in the car to help me watch the road and to keep me awake.  Call 1-888-NEED–HIM; someone is waiting to talk with you.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."